Back from the dead, this Toyota GR Corolla made history as world's first liquid hydrogen racer to complete an endurance race
Sanjay · Jun 3, 2023 09:57 AM
Talk about a story for the ages – Rookie Racing's Toyota GR Corolla has made history as the world's first liquid hydrogen-fuelled car to complete a race by successfully crossing the finish line at Round 2 of the Super Taikyu's 24 hours of Fuji this past weekend.
Hydrogen (H2) as fuel is not new per se, as Toyota has fielded H2-combusting Corolla race cars since 2021. The main difference between now and then is the trialling of liquid hydrogen, a tech that promises higher energy density, longer driving range, allows for multiple cars to refuel in succession, in addition to more efficient use of space over the previous race car's gaseous hydrogen setup.
Key improvements were made since then, focusing on the engine bay. Hydrogen piping was moved away from hot areas, and on went new safety covers on said piping joints. Some extra weight was shed too, resulting in a car that's 50 kg lighter since pre-season testing.
To simplify and add lightness is far from a bad strategy, so while the car runs the same powertrain as it did on gaseous hydrogen – a 1.6-litre turbo three-pot paired to a 6-speed manual – it managed to clock a race best time of 2.02:706; slightly behind the gaseous hydrogen car's best lap last year of 1.59:876, despite having to deal with the niggles of the new fuel.
With driving duties shared by Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda (racing as 'Morizo'); Super GT racer Hiroaki Ishiura; president of Ogura clutch Yasuhiro Ogura; works racer Masahiro Sasaki; and special guest, ex-WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala, car number #32 completed 358 laps.
In second place was Rookie Racing's CNF-powered Toyota GR86 that completed 640 laps, followed by a CNF Subaru BRZ and a biodiesel Mazda 3. Team Honda Racing Corporation's CNF-powered Honda Civic Type R was fifth of the six total ST-Q runners.
However, Rookie Racing – which is founded and owned by Akio Toyoda – had another cause to celebrate besides the hydrogen car's smooth debut. The team managed to claim overall victory in the ST-X class with its Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo shared by Super GT regulars Naoya Gamou, Hibiki Taira and Tatsuya Kataoka, plus gentleman racer Ryuta Ukai.
Key improvements to using liquid H2
One of the benefits of switching to liquid hydrogen is the increase of the car's useable range, evident in the fact that the GR Corolla completed the 24 hours with only 25 pitstops – down from the 41 it needed back in 2022.
In other words, the car can travel almost two times longer than it did on gaseous hydrogen, even with the same 1 and a half minutes refueling time it needs at this juncture.
This evolution in hydrogen technology also eliminates the need for a seperate facility parked far away at the end of the pit wall which was previously required to produce pressurised gaseous hydrogen.
Since there's no need to pressurise the fuel, the only space needed is the regular pit box. Multiple cars can be filled up in succession too, just like conventional race car pit stops.
Though this has been a good start, the ongoing logistical challenges – such as maintaining the ultra-low temperature of -253°C during refueling and storage, developing fuel pumps that can operate at said temperature, and dealing with natural vaporisation as tanks heat up – are things the team needs to tackle as the races progress.
Toyota is also working with several universities in Japan in the research of making more efficient automotive-use liquid hydrogen pumps.
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.